The GTI dialed up to 11

We spied the upcoming Volkswagen Golf GTI once again and this time it was the hotter TCR version.

The TCR will of course have more power than a normal GTI and it will also be more driver focused. Where the regular GTI will have 180 kW / 245 horsepower, the TCR will have a mighty 221 kW / 300 horsepower. And like the old GTI TCR, the power goes via a DSG dual clutch gearbox and a locking differential to the front wheels. No manual option is planned as for now.

The brake discs are drilled and the suspension is lower and more firm compared to a standard GTI. The intercooler hidden behind the front bumper looks slightly bigger than on the standard GTI but we are not really sure.

There will of course also be some optical changes like special wheels and oval exhaust pipes. The rear spoiler on the production ready car will be bigger than on this prototype and the interior will also be special for the TCR.

Exterior

  • Bigger air inlets in the nose, similar to the GTI
  • Unique, super-sized rims
  • LED lighting all around
  • Roof spoiler atop the rear hatch
  • Twin exhaust
  • Not that aggressive-looking
  • Diffuser apparently hidden
  • No cheeky side skirts either
2021 Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR
- image 885278

Volkswagen curtailed its support of the Golf GTI TCR program late last year when it announced that all of its future motorsport endeavors will focus on electric racing. The Golf TCR, effectively the race-going version of the 306-horsepower seventh-generation Golf R, complete with boxy arches, a towering wing in the back, and a bare cabin will still be seen racing around the world and Volkswagen isn’t giving up on the nameplate either.

The beginning of February brought us TCR-shaped news in from Wolfsburg that amounted to a colorful Golf TCR made to run on electricity alone. Known as the e-Performance Golf R Concept, it looks just like any other Golf TCR on the outside but, to us, it’s there to prove that Volkswagen Motorsport isn’t done with touring car racing and may be entertaining the idea of entering the soon-to-debut e-TCR series. Sister brand Cupra will commit and there will even be a bulky Alfa Romeo Giulia-based e-racer on the grid.

2021 Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR
- image 885283

That’s why the car you see here will still be referred to as the ’GTI TCR’. Yes, it’s confusing when you think that the race car is based on the R, not the GTI but it goes along the lines of that old adage, "race on Sunday, sell on Monday," and at least as long as Volkswagen is still involved in TCR racing, we’ll see the TCR badge trickle down to the German automaker’s souped-up production Golf.

It must be said that this isn’t a homologation special. It lacks all the aerodynamic awesomeness of the race car - no big, flared arches, no protruding splitter or huge diffuser out back - and it’s not even placed at the top of the Golf pile. In fact, Volkswagen introduced the GTI TCR merely to bridge the gap between the range-topping R, of which we’ll hear more about when it’ll drop this July, and the bog-standard GTI.

2021 Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR
- image 885282
We won't talk too much about the styling of this test mule as we're sure most of the eye-catching bits that you see on the current Golf GTI TCR aren't in place on this car that was out and about probably to try out the improved drivetrain.

Expect the diffuser, the enlarged skirts, and the splitter extension to break cover further down the road. For now, our only clear indication that this isn’t yet another GTI mule hides behind those pretty rims, namely the drilled brake discs. Those aren’t available on the GTI.

In the front, the GTI TCR features a larger inlet that extends across the width of the fascia. Behind the louvers of the central part of the grille, you can easily peek at the Golf’s sizeable intercooler, with the outboard vents directing air towards the brakes. The cheese grater grille in the middle lends way to louvers on either side, the grille itself being separated into three parts by some blank, covered areas.

The corners of the main grille are marked by a blacked-out plastic frame that encircles the corners of the grille to make it look more aggressive. Expect the production version to also come with some lip extensions below the grille as we see on the current Golf GTI TCR.

2021 Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR
- image 885289

There’s not much to talk about elsewhere in the front as the horizontal opening in between the headlights is identical to that on any other eighth-gen Golf and the same goes for the much-lamented Matrix LED headlights with their slightly squished shape that extend around the front fascia across the front overhangs. Also, this mule lacks the classic red touches that are a trademark of any GTI so expect a red outline to traverse the lower part of the opening between the headlights - as well as a GTI badge in the corner.

The hood of this test mules seems to be standard, with no added creases or vents and the same can be said for the side mirrors with incorporated blinkers.

What is more, the fender flares seem to be just as big as on any other Golf 8 although there will be visible side skirts on the production version and, most likely, the mirrors will be blacked out (on examples that aren’t already all black, of course) as well as other body elements to give it that necessary sporty feel.

From the side, the first thing you notice is the bigger, five-spoke rims that hide drilled rotors with red, GTI-labeled calipers. These big brakes are the main indication that we’re looking at the peppy GTI TCR and not the standard 2021 GTI. This mule also lacks any sort of graphics like we’ve seen on the current TCR although we think they might make a comeback on the new model. Expect either an array of circles or, maybe, a different geometrical shape like diamonds. On top of that, the ’TCR’ moniker will be present at least in a few places on the body like on the rocker panels.

2021 Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR
- image 885286
The rear end of the GTI TCR will be at the receiving end of a similar treatment to the nose section.

In short, this will entail the addition of a splitter with four or five vertical elements (the 2020 Golf GTI TCR features a four-element splitter) in between the twin exhaust pipes. On this mule, we reckon the splitter is hidden and the presence of a tow hitch doesn’t help us either. However, you can see the spoiler atop the tailgate which, like the side mirrors, will probably be blacked out.

The eighth-generation Golf GTI TCR will be, like the rest of the Golf range, 1.2 inches longer than the outgoing model and roughly as wide and as tall. Granted, the TCR variant will sit closer to the asphalt thanks to stiffer springs. Both the previous-generation Golf and the current one feature a 103.8-inch wheelbase.

2021 Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR exterior dimensions
Wheelbase 103.8 in
Length 168.7 in
Width 70.4 in
Height 57.3 in

Interior

  • Colored accents
  • Bucket seats
  • Sporty digital dials with unique menus
  • Will ride stiffer than a normal Golf
  • Still with four doors so still family-friendly to some degree
  • Overall, pretty much as practical as any other Golf
  • TCR badges throughout
2020 Volkswagen Golf Interior
- image 868344
While there are some that dislike the Golf's new face, arguing that Volkswagen's hit compact car has lost some of its identity after the latest restyling job, the main talking point in the case of the Golf 8 is its cabin.

Volkswagen has been slow to move the Golf upmarket with the past two generations sharing the same familiar interior design but the eighth-generation makes a courageous leap into the future with a glass cockpit filled with digital screens, although the materials used may not be necessarily better. The market is the one that will decide if the Golf has become - for lack of a better phrase - too premium but what we can bet our money on is that the cabin of the GTI TCR will benefit from a healthy dose of sporty touches.

The standard setup comprises an eight-inch display for the dials and a 10.25-inch infotainment screen to the right but the GTI TCR will most likely come with two screens of equal size, something that’s optional on cheaper trim levels. Volkswagen calls this the ’Innovision’ cockpit and what you’ll notice right away is that there are no physical knobs or dials. Everything is controlled via a slider or button on the screens or, if you so desire, via spoken commands. We reckon VW could improve the quality of the glossy display surroundings as they reflect sunlight in an awkward way making the screens somewhat hard to read. That’s where, hopefully, the GTI TCR will come to your aid with a plethora of redesigned menus, maybe with an infusion of GTI-specific red. You should also expect some sporty dials that light up as you get nearer to the red line on the tachometer.

2020 Volkswagen Golf Interior
- image 868345

We also expect the GTI TCR to come with red (or another color that you can choose) stitching and, maybe, a 12 o’clock marker on the steering wheel. On the standard Golf, the wheel looks pretty mundane with two spokes that feature some of the only buttons inside the car. You’ll, however, find other buttons on the lower center console and on the interior door panels.

The Voice Control system is one of the tech headliners inside the new Golf. By simply saying ’Hello, Volkswagen’ you activate it and the system is quite good although not perfect, as you’d expect if you’ve ridden in cars with similar systems, for instance, Mercedes’ ’Hello, Mercedes’. Alexa is standard as is Apple CarPlay and that’s the case for all eighth-gen Golfs. Some have criticized the use of some not-so-soft plastic inside lower-trim Golfs but we expect the sporty GTI TCR to boast better materials than what we’ve seen thus far.

Expect also to find body-wrapping bucket seats with colorful seatbelts. There will surely be GTI and TCR badges everywhere from the digital screens on the dash to the door sills and the footwells

.

Given just how customizable the infotainment system (MIB3) on the ’boring’ versions of the Golf 8 is, we expect to find some cool surprises embedded in the GTI TCR’s system such as a lap timer or a G meter although Volkswagen’s tight-lipped on anything Golf GTI TCR-related, as you may expect given we’re still a few good months away from the release date.

2020 Volkswagen Golf Interior
- image 868349

The IQ.DRIVE comes with a number of safety-oriented features that are part of the Travel Assist suite such as active cruise control (the Golf 8 can brake, accelerate, and turn on its own as long as you don’t exceed 130 mph). Self-parking is also standard and, via cloud-based technology, you’re able to save your settings and, by using your phone as the car key, you’ll be able to take them with you no matter what Golf 8 you get in and drive. Among other things that can be memorized on cloud is the choice of driving mode. Through the Dynamic Chassis Control (optional on lesser models), you can pick between the Eco, Comfort, and Sport mode (expect the GTI TCR to come with a ’Track’ mode or, in any case, something to top the ’Sport’ mode), as well as an ’Individual’ mode.

Away from all the digital wizardry, the Golf 8 is just as big as the recently-retired model on the inside. That means you have a decent amount of room in the back and, with the rear bench folded, the Golf’s cargo area extends to 43.68 cubic feet. With the rear seats up, the trunk can only take in some 13.41 cubic feet worth of stuff. At least you can now have three-zone climate control or, in other words, separate climate settings for the folks in the back.

Drivetrain

  • 2.0-liter TSI turbo inline-four
  • Expected output of 296 horsepower
  • Front-wheel drive
  • DSG transmission
  • GTI’s six-speed manual could be optional
  • Multiple driving modes
2021 Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR
- image 885277
First and foremost we must re-iterate the fact that the Golf 8 is underpinned by the same MQB platform as the outgoing model which explains why the Golf hasn't grown with the move from the seventh to the eighth-generation model.

What it also means is that you’ll find a similar suspension setup as on the previous GTI TCR: a multi-link rear axle with coil springs and MacPherson struts with similar coil springs in the front.

We know already that, along with the shift-by-wire, seven-speed dual-clutch DSG transmission, the standard GTI can also be ordered with the traditional six-speed manual ’box. What we don’t know, sadly, is if the GTI TCR will also come with the manual. If the 2020 model is an indication of what we may get on the new model, then the news isn’t good for you if you like to row your own gears as the 7.5-gen GTI TCR is only available with the automatic.

In the engine department, prepare for a slight power hike if a leaked slideshow that emerged on the next is to be trusted.

What this means is that the 2.0-liter, turbocharged inline-four will put out as much as 296 horsepower in comparison to "just" 286 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque from a version of the 2017 GTI Clubsport Edition 40’s ‘EA888’ 2.0-liter mill.
2021 Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR
- image 885284

The drilled rotors on the current/outgoing GTI TCR measure 17 inches in diameter and we think they’re just as big on this model which will also sit some 0.2 inches closer to the ground.

Adaptive dampers are optional on the GTI TCR that you can buy today on top of Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires. These options add some $4,000 to the MSRP of the GTI TCR that’s obviously more expensive than a normal GTI from the word go. Then again, what you will get is a more poised hot hatchback that will drive like it’s on rails at the limit, although we’ll have to wait and see just how friendly it will feel on the road given its track-focused nature.

Besides the car’s neutral nature on the limit through the twisty bits, you should also expect it to go quite fast in a straight line.

The current GTI TCR goes from naught to 60 mph in just 5.6 seconds, quite a bit better than the 6.4 seconds that the standard seventh-gen GTI requires to complete the same feat (remember, the eighth-gen GTI will probably be as fast as the seventh-gen 242 horsepower Golf GTI Performance that replaced the standard 228 horsepower GTI last year).

The electronically limited top speed of 155 mph could morph into an unlimited 160+ mph top speed with the delimiter that could become available (it’s available on the current GTI TCR).

2021 Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR specifications
Engine 2.0-liter, turbocharged inline-four
Output  296 horsepower at 5,400 rpm
Torque 280 pound-feet of torque at 2,000 rpm
Top speed  155 mph (limited), >160 mph without limiter
0-60 mph >5.6 seconds
Suspension MacPherson struts over coil springs with adaptive dampers (probably optional) in the front with a multi-link rear axle with an LSD and coil springsSteering Electronic rack-and-pinion
Brakes Ventilated 17-inch/18-inch rotors with multi-piston calipers
Gearbox Shift-by-wire seven-speed, twin-clutch DSG, six-speed manual unlikely
Weight  2,788 pounds

Prices

There’s no information on pricing just yet but consider that the outgoing GTI in standard form is about $30,000 Stateside while the GTI TCR version costs some $40,000 without any options that can easily push the price past $45,500. That’s a lot when you consider that a 2019 MY Civic Type R starts at $37,255. Pricing for the slightly restyled 2020 model has yet to be confirmed but it should be in the same ballpark.

Competition

2020 Audi RS3

2018 Audi RS 3 Sportback High Resolution Exterior
- image 705085

Undoubtedly, Volkswagen wanted to push the Golf up a notch in terms of equipment/luxury and, thus, bring it closer to its Audi brother, the A3. A comparison between the sporty Golf and the sporty A3 is natural, as a result. The RS3 is the hottest version of the A3 available and, in the U.S., the four-door body style with a trunk comes with a $57,195 price tag.

The soon-to-be-replaced model packs a feisty and fun 2.5-liter turbocharged five-pot good for 394 horsepower and 354 pound-feet of torque. Reports say that the new Sportback will bring to the table similar figures as it’s poised to make use of the RS Q3’s 2.5-liter five-pot. Audi says the current RS3 sedan can go from naught to 60 mph in 3.9 seconds although Car & Driver managed to do it in 3.5 seconds and, sans limiter, the car will exceed 170 mph.

Beyond the raw performance numbers, the RS3 glues to the road thanks to the magnetic ride system and permanent Quattro AWD. You can have fixed sport suspension but that makes the car jiggly over bumps and it’s only really useful if you plan to take your RS3 on many a track days. Otherwise, stick with the standard setup and get the Dynamic package to set the exhaust free and allow it to make all the right noises (you also get fatter front tires as part of the package).

Inside, the current RS3 (that’s a noticeable $13,000 more than the 288 horsepower S3), features a rather small infotainment screen that rises from the dash and Audi’s Virtual Cockpit behind the wheel. The dash is more traditional in its appearance compared to what we’re poised to get inside the VW and that can be a good thing if you aren’t a fan of all the digital malarkey.

Having said that, the new RS3 that will most likely pop in 2021 will feature bigger screens for a more ’digital’ experience. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration is standard but built-in navigation, a Wi-Fi hotspot, handwriting recognition for user inputs, and the biggest digital display behind the wheel (12.3 inches of colorful goodness, to be precise) are all part of the Navigation package that costs $2,300 over MSRP. Safety features include all of the usual: adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go technology and lane-departure warning and lane-keeping assist among others.

Read our full review on the 2020 Audi RS3.

2020 Honda Civic Type R

2017 - 2020 Honda Civic Type R
- image 879785

The recently-restyled Civic Type R remains one of the most outlandish and most potent hot hatches out there. While you may or may not like the ’boy racer’ styling, you can’t deny that for under $40,000, the Civic Type R is impossible to overlook if you’re in the market for a fast compact car.

For 2020, the Civic Type R sports a redesigned front bumper with a slightly larger grille and, also, you can have it in a new tint of blue called Boost Blue. The shifter has also been redesigned and its throws are now shorter and, if you think you can’t tame the beast that is the Type R, Honda throws into the mix this year its own safety package named Honda Sensing that includes a number of driving assists.

The Civic isn’t as powerful as the Audi, nor as nice on the inside in terms of materials, but its turbocharged, four-cylinder mill still makes 306 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque which translates to a 0-60 mph time of 4.9 seconds and a top speed of 170 mph. The car tips the scales at 3,060 pounds making it heavier than the Golf GTI TCR but lighter than the Focus RS by quite a margin.

With adaptive dampers from standard and the R+ driving mode engaged (the sportiest of the lot), the Civic Type R equipped with 20-inch alloys and summer tires can pull 1.02 G’s on the skidpad while also being able to behave itself as a daily driver. The Type R is at least as grippy as any go-fast Golf but, sadly, it doesn’t sound particularly impressive - clearly not as loud as the exterior design speaks. The Civic is also roughly as efficient (29 mpg combined) as the seventh-gen Golf R (31 mpg) and more fuel-efficient than the Audi. Given its price tag, it’s hard to beat although, as we said, not everyone may enjoy its styling cues.

Read our full review on the 2020 Honda Civic Type R

Conclusion

2021 Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR
- image 885286
The Golf GTI TCR is poised to continue VW's tradition of turning out really good sporty Golfs.

The current GTI TCR has been criticized for not being as friendly as expected when used as a daily driver while also not feeling as exciting on the limit as the range-topping R. Whether or not the new GTI TCR will be a more fun experience from the driver’s seat is something we’ll only find out when we’ll get to drive it but what’s certain is that VW must make an effort to give each one of its fast Golfs a more individualized character if it still wants to provide three versions. Otherwise, it’s hard to build a case for the GTI TCR instead of, A) going for the standard GTI or, B) forking the extra amount needed to get you the R.

  • Leave it
    • Not as ’hot’ as the Golf R
    • Expensive when compared to some of its peers
    • May be hard to motivate buying the TCR over a standard GTI
Michael Fira
Associate Editor and Motorsport Expert - fira@topspeed.com
Mihai Fira started out writing about long-distance racing like the famous 24 Hours of Le Mans. As the years went by, his area of interest grew wider and wider and he ever branched beyond the usual confines of an automotive writer. However, his heart is still close to anything car-related and he's most at home retelling the story of some long-since-forgotten moment from the history of auto racing. He'll also take time to explain why the cars of the '60s and '70s are more fascinating than anything on the road today.  Read More
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